Inside the Mill at Bute Fabrics

Do you find that every once in a while a day comes along that blows your mind?

I am glad to say this happened to me last week when Bute Fabrics kindly invited me to see their mill on the Isle of Bute. It has to be said that arriving at the beautiful Victorian railway station at Wemyss Bay and walking onto the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to sail over to Bute is a pretty good way to start to the day.

As I mentioned in my last post, production is something I find completely intriguing and walking into the mill at Bute fabrics was no exception. The mill has a similar feel to a whisky distillery in that it is made up of a series of long low buildings and the tour involves dashing outside from one building to another between wind, rain and the odd deer. However, there is no disguising the fact that this mill is making miles and miles of crafted fabric because the constant clack clack of the looms emanates around the site.

A quick glance around and you ask the question, how on earth does this complex set of odd looking machinery mean anything to anyone? How on earth does a single piece of yarn fed in at one end become a bale of highly prized designer cloth at the other? But cloth woven in this very room on this small Scottish island is being shipped off to customers such as Bank of America, Chap Lek Hok airport Hong Kong, the Sheraton Hotel in Moscow and Royal Festival Hall, London. Well the process can happen because the mill employs passionate people who have real skills. There was a tangible feeling of pride and heritage amongst the people I spoke to. Quite simply, they know they are producing something very good indeed and they are proud of it.

For me, discovering that Bute not only have their own range of cloth but can weave bespoke cloth in virtually any Pantone colour was the icing on the cake (I hope to visit the dyers in the Scottish Borders next). Can you imagine the possibilities this can open up? I firmly believe that designing home wares with a high quality raw material one needs to add very little embellishment at all. A simple form in the perfect colour in a natural material is hard beat.  Finding the perfect ingredients and then setting out to design something with it, in my mind is a pretty exciting way to start a project. Good raw materials speak for themselves.

This mill is only two hours away from where I work, which is quite far in Scottish terms but in reality is ridiculously close. The point I would like to make in this post is to encourage anyone reading this to find out what is being produced in their own area (and sometimes its not always very obvious) and just think of the opportunities it could offer. Embracing what we do well locally I am quite sure will help restore national pride. I for one am very proud to be from a country with mills such as Bute fabrics. What does your country or area produce that makes you feel proud?

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43 thoughts on “Inside the Mill at Bute Fabrics

  1. Wonderful post, Niki. As you already know, I too am fascinated by the design of factories, as well as the products they are producing. Whether bespoke fabric or the innards of a cruise ship, the skill & passion of the engineers and machinists is fascinating. Thank you for such a beautiful glimpse into a a hidden Scottish gem of a place. I can only imagine your goosebumps reaction to the the sights and sounds of that day. I look forward to your the next phase of your textile collection with great anticipation. Saving moolah for a cashmere throw!

    • Thanks Kellie, yes it was a fantastic spine tingling day out. We were also taken to the palace of Mount Stuart as Lord Bute owns the mill. The white marble chapel there is stunning. The whole atmosphere changes when you step inside even the air temperature plunges as you glide into the ethereal space.
      I cant wait to get the throws designed and finished!

  2. Thank you for taking us on a tour of the Bute Fabrics mill with you :-) It’s so refreshing to know that there are people out there who take great pride in their work. The passion to be the best at what you do really shows in the product, like these gorgeous colourful fabrics.

    Canadians as a whole have a reputation of being polite, and we seem to be welcomed wherever we go, which makes me proud to be Canadian :-)

    • Oh, my pleasure Kelly!
      Yes, I agree its very refreshing to find passion and commitment in the work place and you are so right, it shows in the finished product.
      I love hearing that you are a proud and polite Canadian – that is such a fantastic national trait to have. Brilliant. Thanks for the inspired comment.

  3. Oh wow, those colors and fabrics look gorgeous! I love seeing the behind the scenes shots. The photos are stunning. I’m now trying to comprehend that they can match to any pantone color….oh the possibilities!

    • Exactly! Seriously, I haven’t slept since properly since the visit as my mind is working over time thinking of colour combos and possible products!
      Loving the ‘lime’ page you have up on your blog today, fresh and zesty, lovely.
      Thanks for the thumbs up on the photos :) appreciated.

      • I’m so glad we share a passion for colors, and laying awake at night thinking about design and colors is seriously my life story. I’m glad you liked the round-up today, I was totally feeling it lately. So glad we can inspire each other!

  4. What an interesting post. I’ve never been to a textile factory. Poland used to have a strong textile industry in the city of Łódź.
    Thank you for stopping by at Polonica: Home Again and leaving a comment. Scotland is very dear to my heart. I have family there, and I spent 6 months in Edinburgh when I was a student.

    • Thank you Zosia, that’s really interesting because although I have many Polish friends here in Edinburgh, I don’t know very much about its manufacturing past or present. I’ve just looked up Lodz on the web and I see it has some very beautiful buildings. I am intrigued by the coat of arms showing a boat – that’s odd for a town so far from the coast isn’t it?
      I’m glad to hear that Scotland is in your heart and that you have family here. Thanks again for the interesting comment.

    • Thanks Claire. Oh, I love Timorous Beasties work, I must look at the Ramshead range as I’ve not seen it and I would be especially interested to see their colour choices. Thanks for letting me know. I wonder if they are showing it at ‘Scotland Re designed’ at tomorrows launch at the Lighthouse in Glasgow.

      • It really is one of those fabrics that just makes you breathless with lust! I found the sample book in an interiors shop in Edinburgh earlier this year but haven’t seen it anywhere else. Very glad to see that Bute have relaunched their website – Ramshead’s there but the colours are so much more vibrant in the flesh. And thank you for the lovely comment – it’s very much appreciated!

      • I am so glad we have connected through the blog as I love hearing about others who get breathless with colour and texture! Yes, their site went back up today so I am looking forward to having a good trawl through it. I’ve just looked at Ramshead and I see what you mean! Mmm, loving the slatey-violet and the ochres especially.I am needing to touch this cloth for sure – a mission for tomorrow…

  5. Oh how exciting! Great mills in Tayside too!

    Loving the multicolours of the yarn…..brightened up a rainy and long day! Thank you!


    • Oh, Shona, I may have to pick your brains on this one. Let me know about the Tayside mills when you get a chance. Great to hear from you as always and hope to catch up for a lunch in the Jute Cafe – ha, how appropriate!

  6. Check out cashmere @ Todd and Duncan and technical textiles @ don and low, j and d Wilkie, bonar and WL gore……maybe not what you’re looking for but definitely interesting!

    • Thank you Kate! I’ve just had a good look around your Make it British website – how fantastic! You have so many brilliant articles on it and I really look forward to visiting the online shop when that’s set up. Be in touch, Niki

  7. Honestly the best post I have read in a long time! those colours are just mind-blowing – especially the electric blue! how lucky you are to have gone on such an amazing tour!!! you have definitely inspired me!

  8. Hello, Niki,
    Oh, this is a fascinating blog. Beautiful streams of colors flood everywhere. Your pictures are wonderful! I would like to visit a mill like this and watch northern light if I ever go to Scotland.
    I love your way of showing fabrics being woven by looms. How beautiful!! In Japan since ancient times, red colour has been used as protection. Colors are very powerful tools!
    I am proud of car industries producing eco-cars.
    Have a great week!
    keiko from Nara, Japan

    • Ah, Keiko, what a lovely comment to wake up to today, thank you so much!

      I am really inspired by the combination of the four special colours of Japan – the strength of red makka , the purity of shiro and masshiro white, kuro and pitch black makkuro and sky blue massao as they combined to make a truly perfect palette.

      I can see why you are proud of the eco-cars, such an important way forward. Have a lovely day in Japan. x

    • Thanks Kristyn, lovely to hear from you. Yes, I must say the long process involved amazed me too especially as a lot of the process were done by hand. Very labour intensive but that’s what makes a lovely crafted cloth, I guess.
      Ooooh, I just looked at your blog and those tea lights from Wapa Studio are just beautiful & serene.

  9. Wow, extraordinary presentation, with beautiful and creatively detailed images… color color color, I love it! What a fantastic place to tour and see in person how the operation works!

  10. Hi Niki
    I am very jealousy you got to visit the Bute factory! We had their swatch book arrive last week and the fabrics are just amazing, now the problem of which colour to choose, though I think the Rams Head is the winner in terms of design!
    We are just starting up BeFab Be Creative a Digital Fabric Printing Bureau in Edinburgh and we are working hard to use British weavers where possible, they aren’t always easy to find but we are proud to have some in our range including some Peter Greig & Co. Linens, who are based over the water in Fife. We’ll be up and running in September and if you’d like to see what we’re up to you are more than welcome to come and have a nosy round the studio once we are printing. :o)

    • Oh I would love to nip round for a visit, thank you. I’m on hols right now but really look forward to linking up with you all. Your project sounds fantastic, right up my street and delighted to hear you are using British where poss. An earlier commenter, Shona, gave me some good weavers addresses too. Really look forward to hearing more about you & thanks for getting in touch, niki

  11. Pingback: Some great photos from inside the Bute Fabrics mill

  12. Lovely post … it brought back memories for me with your third image down with all the spools of thread. When I was a university student in the 80s, I was fortunate to have one of the best paying jobs a student could hope to have in the area. The hours were great and the pay twice as much as I could have made anywhere else and all I had to do was keep those spools running smoothly up the line so it could go into a big round drum at the end. All of our thread was white and it went other places to be dyed and woven into fabric. I worked as a creeler and warper during the two years or so that I was with Dupont. Thanks for bringing back some fun memories.

    (I followed you here from Caitlin Kelly’s blog today due to the Scotland reference. I’m an American living in Cornwall, but Scotland is key to how I ended up with a British husband)

    • Oh wow! Thank you for your lovely comment and I am glad it brought back good memories. I even love the words connected to weaving – how lovely to have been a creeler and a warper.

      And I am so glad that Scotland played a key role in your life! I am just about to nip over to your blog to learn more!

      Caitlin’s blog is brilliant isnt it. She writes so well and her posts always strike a chord and are always relevant. She’s very talented.

      Ok, off to visit your site now!

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